By Andrew Kiess
Tom King is a brave man. Yes, he’s served America as a counterterrorism CIA operative, but his most recent challenge in life has been filling the role once held by the great Scott Snyder writing Batman. Snyder’s run as the lead writer on Batman lasted the entire fiver year lifespan of DC Comics’ New 52 line, and was its bestseller, as well as one of the most critically acclaimed books of the line. But, Snyder left shortly after the Bloom arc, and when DC was looking to relaunch the line, Snyder was moved to All-Star Batman, and King was asked to step up to the plate.
Spoilers for Batman #1-15 to follow.
King’s run debuted with I Am Gotham. This story, found in issues 1-6, featured the mysterious appearance of two super-powered beings called Gotham and Gotham Girl, who were being manipulated by the Psycho Pirate. In the sequel arc, I Am Suicide (issues 9-14), Psycho Pirate is being protected in Bane’s fortress, and Batman recruits a Suicide Squad from Amanda Waller in order to extract the Pirate so that he can cure Gotham Girl. The plan is successful, which obviously does not sit well with Bane.
If I’m being honest, I have struggled to get into this new run on Batman. David Finch’s art has been great, and Tom King is a great writer, but it has felt like Batman has taken a backseat to the characters around him throughout the entire Rebirth line. And as great as Rebirth has been for most of DC’s characters, I have felt like Batman has not benefitted from Rebirth. That was until I read I Am Bane.
Bane is on his way to Gotham to exact revenge for Batman infiltrating his sovereign territory, and Bruce Wayne is preparing for war in a way that only Bruce could—by sending all of his soldiers away from the battlefield. Bruce warns Dick Grayson/Nightwing, Duke Thomas/Lark, Damian Wayne/Robin, and Jason Todd/Red Hood to stay out of Gotham until Bane is dealt with. But, his warnings fall on deaf ears for the Robins, and Bruce finds them hanging, barely alive, in the Batcave with the words “I Am Bane” spray painted across their chests. Bruce and Alfred must get Gotham Girl and the Psycho Pirate out of Bane’s path of destruction, and so they barricade themselves deep within Arkham while Bane’s warpath leads him through all of the inmates Batman has put there over the years.
Three issues into this run, I finally understood what King was doing. It’s no coincidence that the main three arcs of King’s run so far have been titled with the words “I Am…”. He was re-forging Batman’s identity as Bruce. Or Bruce’s identity as Batman. Either way, the end of the New 52 saw many changes for Bruce Wayne, not the least of which included being raised from the dead (kind of) and becoming the god of knowledge (really.) Despite all the good that happened for the character during the New 52, it didn’t leave the character with very many directions to go. Is Batman Gotham, or are there other heroes better suited for that task? Is Batman suicide, willing to sacrifice himself for the cause? Or is Batman like Bane, steeped in tragedy and loss? In the last half of I Am Bane, something beautiful happens with the character that I think that if you haven’t been paying attention, you might miss.
Batman is taken out of the tragedy that inspired him, while Bane is haunted by his own tragic past that holds him back. While the death of Bruce’s parents may have started his quest to rid Gotham of crime, it is now his own heroic nature that keeps him going. He is pulled out of the muck of being a crusader for justice, fighting an unwinnable war—he’s a man, who sees that being Batman and doing Batman things, saving Gotham Girl, stopping Bane, and doing these things with every drop of sweat and blood he can give, as the right thing to do. And because being Batman is the right thing to do, he is going to do it. This is Tom King’s Batman. And, even though I’m late to the party, I’m a fan